A study released from Argentina on Thursday may unlock a simple solution for reducing the risk of iron deficiency in newborn babies. Iron deficiency anemia means that red blood cells are not carrying sufficient oxygen to the tissues in the body. Symptoms in infants can include weakness, tiredness, irritability, loss of appetite, or rapid heartbeat – or, no symptoms at all.
The study was released on April 16 in The Lancet. It demonstrates that newborns who are held immediately after birth, for as little as two minutes before clamping the umbilical cord, have increased blood flow from the mother’s placenta to the baby. The research, conducted by the Foundation for Maternal and Child Health in Buenos Aires, showed that a simple change of position in holding babies following birth leads to a delay in cord clamping.
The position change recommended through the study is for the baby to be held at the level of the mother’s placenta before the umbilical cord is clamped. While this position is uncomfortable and awkward for the person holding the newborn, the research says it can make a significant difference in the health outcome for the infant.
On the plus side, the research states that the potential for greater bonding between mother and baby can lead to increased compliance with the procedure. An added benefit is that following this protocol can lead to better success with breastfeeding. Therefore, the study advises that labor and delivery providers urge the observance of the procedure. Dr. Tonse Raju of the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development strongly supports this recommendation.
Nutritional iron deficiency (ID) is a persistent problem worldwide. Reasons for this include failure of policy makers to recognize the severity of the consequences, inaccuracy in estimating the prevalence of ID, and technical and programmatic obstacles in implementing corrective measures.
A simple course of action such as the one prescribed in the recent study is no-cost and has the potential to be implemented globally with newborn babies. The possibility for this procedure to unlock a solution to iron deficiency has far-reaching effects.
Babies with iron deficiency anemia may have a short attention span, grow more slowly than normal, be fussy, and develop skills in talking and walking at later dates than normal. If iron deficiency is severe, it can cause symptoms including weakness, fatigue, headache, irritability, unusual food cravings (known as pica), and decreased appetite (especially in children).
Iron deficiency can affect school performance because low iron levels are an important cause of reduced alertness, attention span, and increased learning difficulties. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that infants and children must absorb approximately 1 mg of iron each day. It recommends that all babies be screened for iron deficiency at between nine and 24 months of age. When anemia is a cause, mental and behavioral problems in children can be addressed through testing and treatment.
Infants under 12 months of age who drink cow’s milk instead of breast milk or iron-fortified formula are at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia. In contrast, children who are breastfed absorb iron three times the rate of those children who drink cow’s milk or iron-fortified formula.
Identifying causes for iron deficiency is essential in finding solutions for this potentially dangerous health risk. The recommendation of the recent Argentine study can lead to unlocking a key source in reducing the incidence of this common nutrition deficiency in newborn babies.
By Fern Remedi-Brown